Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Case for the Cross - Part 1

John 3

To start, let's get a quick overview of this chapter. In the previous chapter, 2 major events occurred. Jesus began his ministry by changing the water to wine at the wedding in Cana (sidenote here for the skeptical sort: this was NOT Jesus' own wedding because John 2:2 tells us that Jesus was invited to the wedding! kind of strange to invite yourself to your own wedding). Then we have the first Passover in John, where Jesus cleansed the temple of the money-changers, and also prophesied his own resurrection. We also see that "many" people believed in Jesus during this time.

This brings us to John chapter 3. The scene has Nicodemus approaching Jesus at nighttime, no doubt partially in fear of the other Pharisees seeing him with Jesus. Nick tells Jesus that he thinks Jesus has "come from God". Jesus tells him that he (and everyone) must be "born again". Nick doesn't understand and questions Jesus on that. Jesus then proceeds to give a lengthy explanation in vs. 5-21 of what is involved in being born again. The rest of chapter 3 (vs. 23-36) gives us John the Baptizer's last recorded testimony about Jesus during John's ministry. It is considered a transition from John's ministry to Jesus' ministry.

I want to focus here on Jesus' monologue in vs. 5-21, then look a little at vs. 23-36. What do we learn about saving faith in vs. 5-21? I see in these verses at least 3 of the requirements I listed in my introductory post: 1) acknowledgement of sin; 2) belief in Jesus' death on the cross; and 3) belief that Jesus is God.

John 3:16 is a popular verse in our culture, probably the most well-known verse of all time. But let's look at the near context of the words in John 3:16. In verses 14-15, Jesus says, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life." Jesus is referencing an OT story found in
Numbers 21:1-9. The Israelites had begun to complain against God and Moses, so God sent "fiery serpents" which bit the people and many of them died. Verse 7 says, "So the people came to Moses and said, 'We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.' " So Moses went to the Lord, and in verse 8 God told Moses what to do: "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." Moses obeyed, and from then on, anyone who was bit could simply look at the serpent, and his life was spared.

Numbers 21:7 is especially significant. The people clearly acknowledged their sin before the Lord, THEN God made a way for them to just look on the serpent and live. So when Jesus compares his death on the cross to the serpent in the wilderness with Moses, Nicodemus (and the original readers) would immediately have thought of the entire story. The story itself speaks of sin and judgment, as well as God delivering the people. It is almost a "mini" gospel story: it involves recognition of sin, reliance on God for deliverance, God providing the deliverance, and a response required on the part of the individual in order to receive God's deliverance.

Also, Jesus compares himself to the serpent which was "lifted up". I'm not sure if the "standard" from the Numbers story was definitely a cross, but it seems to be some kind of pole lifted up off the ground. This would most certainly bring forth the picture of crucifixion to the original readers. Jesus paints a word picture of himself "lifted up" off the earth (on something, most likely a cross in that culture) due to the sin of the people, and the sinful people avoiding death and being given life by "looking" to him ("believing" in him).

Then in the very next verse (16), it says that God "gave" His Son so that people could avoid death and be given life. The context of Jesus referencing the Numbers story of the serpent on a pole gives import to this meaning of "gave". Verse 16 says that God "gave" His Son in order that people could live eternally. What else could this be referring to except Jesus' substitutionary atonement? For as wonderful as the incarnation is, it alone does not have the ability to grant anyone eternal life. If Jesus had merely come to earth and lived a perfect life, it wouldn't have changed a thing spiritually for any of us. There is no other sense of God's "giving" of His Son that provides eternal life for sinful people who deserve death. John 3:16 is telling us that God "gave" His Son as a sacrifice for our sins when he died on the cross.

Let us now look at John 3:16 in its entirety (everyone together now): "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Now remember, these words are in the context of the story from Numbers, which rings of sin, judgment, and deliverance. Jesus says that whoever believes in Him "shall not perish". In the Numbers story, why were the people perishing? Because of the bites of the serpents, which were sent as a result of their sin. So they perished as a result of their sin. But when they looked upon the serpent, the results of their sin (death) were erased, and they were given life instead.

The analogy Jesus is drawing here is manifestly evident. The people in Numbers acknowledged their sin, then believed in God's provision for deliverance from the resulting judgment of their sin. But of course we know that those people were only given "temporary" life, whereas belief in Jesus results in eternal life. So we can see from the full context of John 3:16 that "belief in Jesus" contemplates an acknowledgement of personal sin and the need for God to provide a way of deliverance from the results of our sin, as well as the realization that God has provided a way of deliverance, that is, Jesus' death on the cross.

But let's back up in verse 16 for a minute. Who is it that God "gave", the one in whom we are to "believe"? It is God's "only begotten Son". In fact, John 3:16 doesn't even mention the name "Jesus". It simply tells us that we are to believe in God's "only begotten Son", or another way to say it, the "Son of God". Clearly this is saying that we are to believe in Jesus as God, or we could say, part of the required content of saving faith ("belief") is the fact that Jesus is God ("Son of God"). How could someone believe "in" the Son of God if that person did not believe that anyone actually is the "Son of God"? If someone believes in a Jesus whom they deny is the Son of God, then obviously they are not believing in the "Son of God".

Now, I know some will claim that the term "Son of God" or "only begotten Son" does not actually refer to deity. I will address and refute that claim later in my outline (see my introductory article for the outline). But let's assume that claim is correct. Let's assume that "only begotten Son" (aka "Son of God") in John 3:16 is NOT a title for deity. What does this title mean then? What would this verse be saying if "only begotten Son" does not mean deity? A mere human? An angel? Some other being? Such an interpretation would have the lost believe in someone who is not God to give them eternal life! John 3:16 requires people to believe in God's "only begotten Son" in order to avoid perishing (the result of their sin) and to receive eternal life. If this term does not refer to deity, then John 3:16 requires everyone to believe in someone less than God (a mere human even! ) to give them eternal life! This is antithetical even to their own message, and is both impossible and unbiblical. But in actuality, this term does in fact refer to deity, as I will show later on in the series.

The rest of John 3 gives us more cause for including belief in Jesus' eternal deity in the required content of saving faith. John 3:18 says, "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Again, no mention of believing in "Jesus", yet clearly the lost are required to believe in the "Son of God" (referring to deity).
In vs. 27-36, John the Baptizer speaks to his disciples regarding more people beginning to follow Jesus than John. John refers to Jesus' deity in several ways ("the Christ", Jesus "comes from heaven", Jesus is "the Son" and God has "given all things into his hand"). Finally, in v. 38, John declares, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." Once again, we have no mention of the name Jesus in a salvific text. What we do see is a requirement to believe in "the Son [of God]". If someone does not believe Jesus is the "Son of God", then even if they claim to believe in Jesus, as far as they are concerned they are not believing in the Son of God.

In summary, John 3 shows us at least 3 items in the required content of saving faith: acknowledgement of personal sin, belief in Jesus' death on the cross to pay for our sin, and belief that Jesus is God. The sin aspect is evident from Jesus' reference in vs. 14-15 to the story in Numbers. Belief in Jesus' substitutionary atonement on the cross is also evident from the story in Numbers, as well as the statement in v. 16 that God "gave" His Son for the purpose of making provision for people to avoid death and receive life. And we see that belief in the eternal deity of Jesus is required by noting the requirement to believe in the "Son of God" in vs. 16, 18, and 36.

I will discuss Romans 3 in the next article. Please feel free to interact with any of my points in this article at any time.


  1. Hi Rachel~

    I linked over from Rose's blog, where I've really enjoyed reading your comments. Thanks for do the study - I'll have to pop in later for a more thorough read.

    I'll be linking to you on my sidebar. :-)

    Keep contending!

  2. Hi Gayla,

    Thanks for the encouragement and the link! I'll head over to your blog and check it out. :-)

  3. Rachel, I appreciate this post where I can clearly follow your thoughts and consider them!

    You make a fine arugment for your first and second points, and my own faith tells me that you must be right about belief in the diety of Jesus, but I still cannot see it clearly here. Using your relational scripture in Numbers, the people looked to a mere stick or carving for salvation, so is it not such a far jump to a mere man who has been chosen? The OT refers to the Christ as an anointed King of Israel, as the Son of Man - but as far as I have found, never as God Himself. I look forward to your explanation of the diety of Christ in scripture.

  4. Oops, let's make that "argument" and you may know me as "Missy" in other circles. {c;

  5. Howdy Missy! Thanks for visiting. I appreciate your objectivity in these discussions.

    I do not see the Numbers story as definitively relating to belief in Jesus' deity for salvation. Perhaps I didn't make that clear (too many late nights!). I see the sin and death/atonement issues in the Numbers story, but the deity issue I see in John 3:16, 18, and 36. In these verses we are told that the lost must believe in the "Son of God", "the Son", God's "only begotten Son". This title has been almost universally accepted as a title of deity, it is only recently with Hodges has there been any divergence on that (and I plan to address that later on in this series).

    "Crossless" gospel proponents hold that people need to simply believe in "Jesus" and do not need to believe in his deity. However, these verses in John 3 do not even say the name "Jesus", but they do require the lost to believe in "the Son". Clearly if someone believes in a Jesus who is NOT "the Son", then they are not believing in "the Son".

    Antonio has been advocating elsewhere that as long as a person (such as a Mormon) properly identifies Jesus (whatever that means exactly... how much has to be right/how much could be wrong in order to "properly" identify Jesus?) and believes in that Jesus, then he has eternal life. He and Matthew both have emphasized that who Jesus is is not determined by what we believe about Him, therefore He can save people even if they believe wrong things about Him. My problem with that is that Jesus conditioned salvation upon who we think He is, NOT upon who He is. Of course, who Jesus is (God) is what gives him the ability to give us eternal life, but it is our personal beliefs about Jesus that determine whether or not he actually gives us that eternal life.

    Also, I think we would all agree that humans cannot save themselves. None of us can get to heaven and live eternally on our own. If someone believes that Jesus is NOT God, yet believes that Jesus somehow has eternal life AND can somehow give that to other people, then we have people believing that a mere human can gain eternal life on his own and actually give it to others as well. This is antithetical to the foundational Christian message, that of man's need for God to fix our spiritual problem(s) since we can't do it on our own. In fact, IMO it would be akin to trusting works for salvation - just someone else's. While it is true that in a sense, we ARE trusting Jesus' righteous works instead of our own, that only works because Jesus is God. It seems to me that trusting the works of another human isn't much different than trusting my own works.

  6. Thank you again, Rachel, for the dialogue so I can better understand your belief. I mean absolutely no disrespect, but I must say that it is much easier to examine your belief when you simply explain yours rather than try to tell me about someone else's that you refute. I was really hoping that was your intent with such a "reasonable" title. :)

    I think I am in agreement with you in finding it entirely impossible to fathom eternal salvation from a non-diety. But scripturally I am still stumped at how "Jesus is the Son of God" becomes "Jesus IS God" You say that it is or has been universally accepted, but I think we can agree time has proven many things that were once universally accepted to be utterly false. I'm not saying it must be wrong, but I rarely will accept that as a convincing argument. :)

    I know this is a deep issue of faith for you, and I eagerly await your persuasion!


  7. Missy,

    I think there is room for stating a belief in terms of the positive ("here's what I believe") as well as in terms of the negative ("here's why I don't believe something"). Indeed, many of the doctrines we are so familiar with were formalized precisely because they began to be attacked, but not before. Although, I do agree with Antonio and others that there is much more "here's why you're wrong" coming from my side than "here's what we believe". I think the reason is because "what we believe" on this issue seems so foundational, obviously necessary, and universally accepted by just about every kind of Christian denomination that it has seemed unnecessary to spend time proving it.

    But many of the core Scriptures used to defend my view have recently been challenged with different interpretations. I think the time has come for a specific argument that proves what my view is and why. Please note, I am absolutely NOT setting myself up as some kind of authoritative voice on this subject! :-) But I do have a lot of thoughts on this subject, so I wanted to "formalize" them (if a blog series can be called "formalized" LOL), if for no other reason than confidence in my own beliefs, that I am holding to my beliefs because I have solid evidence and reason to, rather than because I've just always believed them.

    Regarding my "land of reason" title, I'm not all that creative, and I've used that phrase on various account profiles when it asks for "location". I've also done a lot of debating with atheists and skeptics, and they usually think they alone operate in the realm of reason and rational thought, while I see much irrationality and lack of reason in their arguments. I tried to think of something clever since my title is similar to Rose's, but like I said I'm not terribly creative and I only have so much mental energy! LOL So I stuck with this. :-)

    You said,

    "I think I am in agreement with you in finding it entirely impossible to fathom eternal salvation from a non-diety."

    Not only do I find it impossible to fathom, I find it simply impossible and incompatible with actually receiving eternal salvation. Allow me to reemphasize the last paragraph in my last comment above. Eternal life being gained (and given!) by someone other than God (namely, a human) stands in opposition to the very heart of Christianity, even Scripture. Again, please see the last paragraph of my last comment for further explanation.

    You said,

    "I think we can agree time has proven many things that were once universally accepted to be utterly false."

    Perhaps my choice of words was not the best. When I said "universally accepted" I didn't mean simply that most people agree. I meant two things: 1) many people across a wide spectrum agree on this - people with significant areas of disagreement do agree that "Son of God" means deity; 2) it has also stood the test of time and study, in that "Son of God" has been considered a reference to deity for a very long time.

    Nevertheless, your request for more proof is a valid one. But I first want to clarify: are you asking for evidence that the Bible uses the term "Son of God" to mean deity? Or are you asking how a person reading "Son of God" could be expected to realize that it is a claim to deity?

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  9. Rachel, I want it all! :)

    Actually, " a person reading "Son of God" could be expected to realize that it is a claim to deity?" would best describe my interest.

    I never thought to question it until it has become a center of debate. Now I find myself re-examining this belief, and I am afraid my scholarship has failed me. :-(

    I love your blog title, BTW. And if you're serious about "formalizing" you should wear a tuxedo while in the Land of Reason. (Oh, dear...please forgive me.)

  10. Hello, Rachel,
    Nice work on your articles!

    [But scripturally I am still stumped at how "Jesus is the Son of God" becomes "Jesus IS God" You say that it is or has been universally accepted, but I think we can agree time has proven many things that were once universally accepted to be utterly false.]


    Good question. I'm sorry you are struggling with this. There is much to support this doctrine in Scripture. First some plain passages where Jesus is called "God".

    1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

    Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

    2 Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
    To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

    Jesus is called both God and the Son of God here:

    Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

    5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

    “You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”?

    Or again,

    “I will be to him a father,
    and he shall be to me a son”?

    6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

    “Let all God's angels worship him.”

    7 Of the angels he says,

    “He makes his angels winds,
    and his ministers a flame of fire.”

    [Here God the Father speaks to God, the Son here-SW]

    8 But of the Son he says,

    “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
    the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

    9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

    10 And,

    “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands;
    11 they will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment,
    12 like a robe you will roll them up,
    like a garment they will be changed.
    But you are the same,
    and your years will have no end.”

    13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,

    “Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”

    John 20:26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    About the many passages that use the term Son of God:
    Louis Berkhof writes in His Systematic Theology
    {The term Son of God is used] in the metaphysical sense as the Second person of the trinity in contrast to the Socinians and Unitarian views. In some passages it is abundantly evident that the name [Son of God] is indicative of the deity of Christ. John 5:18-25; Hebrews 1.
    The Jews certainly understood Jesus to claim He was the Son of God in the metaphysical sense, for they regarded the manner in which He spoke of Himself as the Son of God as blasphemy Matthew 26:63; John 5:18; 10:36.


    Matthew 26:63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

    John 19:6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

    John 5:16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
    18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

    J. C. Ryle writes on Jn 5:18
    The expression 'Son of God' meant far more to a Jewish mind than it does to us. We see in John 5:18 that the Jews considered that when our Lord said that God was his Father he made himself 'equal with God'. See also John 10:33 below. One thing at any rate is very clear: whatever Socinians may say, our Lord distinctly laid claim to divinity and the Jews distinctly understood him to mean that he was God as well as man.
    Cyril well remarks that if the Jews had dealt justly, they would have told the Gentile ruler that the person before him had not only claimed to be the Son of God, but had also done many miracles in proof of His divinity.

    John 10:34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

    Hope this helps.

  11. Susan,

    First, I will say "WOW"!! Second, I will tell you it certainly is helping me stay up later. :)

    Several of those scriptures I have been looking at for days, if not weeks, and although I am not dismissing them, they have fallen in my column of "literary ambiguity" - at least in my comprehension of them. I am certainly going to look at each of these scriptures more closely!

    What has caught my attention immediately is a connection between your quotes here from John 1:1-3 and Hebrews 1:2:

    John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."

    Hebrews 1:2 ..."but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world."

    Then, of course Hebrews 1:3&4 toss me a loop to trip over:

    "After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

    It seems to say that Christ became more than he was. What is more than God? Is he God at one point and not in another?

    I should rest. Maybe it will become more clear in the morning. Thank you Rachel and Susan for your time!


  12. Missy:

    I perused the thread here. I want to ask you a question, and it is not meant to trap you.

    Are you now, or have you ever been a member of, or attended the LDS church?


  13. ["After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

    It seems to say that Christ became more than he was. What is more than God? Is he God at one point and not in another?]

    Jesus is God and always has been God, but He was not always the God-Man. as the God-Man He is honored for His great work of redemption. He who was equal with the Father left the glories of heaven and humbled Himself even to the point of being condemned and crucified like a common criminal. His exaltation follows His humiliation. He deserves all honor and glory because He, the creator took on the form of a servant to rescue sinners and destroy the Devil's work. He has broken the curse and will one day make all things new.

    Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    God, the Son is worthy of our worship!

    Rev. 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

    “Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
    for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
    10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

    11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

    John 5:21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

  14. Hi Missy,

    Susan has posted some good Scriptures giving strong evidence that the "Son of God" is equal in nature and essence to "God". I find the Hebrews 1 and John 5 passages rather clear. Hebrews 1:3 says that the Son is the "exact representation" of God's nature. 1:6 has God telling the angels to worship the Son, and of course only God should be worshiped. And 1:8 has God calling the Son "God". 1:12 ascribes unique characteristics of God to the Son.

    John 5:21 says that the Son gives life "just as" the Father does. 5:23 states that "all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father". 5:25 says there is coming a time when "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live". People coming back to life because they heard a voice MUST mean that that voice is God's, and no other's. According to 5:26, the Son "has life in himself" just like the Father does.

    It is also clear that "Son of God" was considered deity by others, specifically the Jews at that time. Susan posted John 19:6-7, where the Jews claim that Jesus should die because "he has made himself the Son of God". I don't know of any Jewish law that prohibited someone from claiming to be merely a child of God, but there certainly was one that prohibited someone from claiming to actually be God.

    More in a bit...

  15. No, Lou I am not and never have been. But, I am currently being bombarded by members of that church as I have been attempting to talk to a Mormon neighbor about her beliefs. Their church is within walking distance, so they come by to debate often. So far I have been very cordial, in the hopes to better understand. I think it is important to understand what in scripture refutes their beliefs, so I must question and come to full conviction of the deity of Christ that I have held but never really considered it scripturally. I believe I am in agreement with Rachel - but I want to know why I should be, apart from how I "feel."

  16. Excellent, Susan, I think I understand that scripture in Hebrews much better. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all this scripture! This was the feast I was looking for. :)

  17. Thank you, Rachel. Again, excellent scripture! Now if I can make it through the maze of Bibles, concordances, and study aides I have amassed today around my desk, my family MIGHT eat dinner. :)

    Perhaps I have been too self-reliant in trying to figure this out for myself.

  18. [I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all this scripture! This was the feast I was looking for. :)]

    I'm so glad it was helpful to you, Missy!

    Every Blessing,

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  20. Hi Rachel
    Enjoy reading your thoughts. I saw your blog mentioned several places and came to look. Your defense of our Lord's deity, death for our sins and resurrection being necessary to saving faith is great to read. I'm wondering if in your studies you have seen any difference between Matt. 15:24 "not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" and John 3:16 saying "world" and "whosoever," and if so, what explanation you might have for both these concepts being true at the same time.

  21. Missy,

    In Isaiah 9:6 we read about the coming Messiah, "For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder."

    Here we see that the "Son" shall have the government upon his Shoulder - that is, He shall be Lord and King.

    But the rest of that verse says, "And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    Isaiah prophesied the coming of a Messiah - One who would be a King, a Son, and God Himself.

    Here is then a passage that shows the connection clearly (I think) between "son of God" and "is God".

    In John 8:24 Jesus says, "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins.”"

    The "He" is not found in any manuscript, nor is it implied by the grammar - rather it is supplied to the English translation to make it sound more English. The text says, unless you believe that "I AM" - which if you will recall, is the covenant name God gave for himself to Moses on Sinai. The author of Hebrews, in Hebrews 11:6 says, "for he who comes to God must believe that He is" - such that if we come to Christ and fail to believe that "He is" (which BTW is the third person singular form of "I am"), they would have found a way to avoid the "must" of Hebrews 11:6.

    Scripture isn't silent about the deity of Christ, or the fact that you must believe it in order to be saved.

    And Hi Rachel! I like your blog.

  22. Hello Missy, I'm responding to a concern you mentioned about whether Christ's title “Son of God” denotes Deity. For starters, many are called “sons of God”, but obviously those are not Gods in the sense of Deity. Angels are called “sons of God”. Adam, a mere man, was called “son of God”, and believers are also called “sons of God”.

    But for Christ, the title “Son of God” takes on special meaning. John 3:16, in the KJV version, states that Christ is the “only begotten Son”. The word for “only begotten” in the original language of Koine Greek is “monegenes”. If we take “monogenes” as to mean merely “only born”, then we have a problem, as others that are born are said to be “sons of God”. What's the solution? Well, monogenes does not merely mean “only born”, but can also have the meaning “unique”. Therefore, Christ is the one unique Son of God. Why? Because He's the only One who is fully God.

    What is the proof that “monogenes” can also mean “unique”? Hebrews 11:17 calls Isaac the only begotten (monogenes) son of Abraham. However, Ishmael was also a son of Abraham, and born first.

    Some who argue that “monogenes” means merely “only born” dismiss this verse by saying that by that time Ishmael had been driven away and it was as though he were dead. However, this is a non-argument, for even if Ishmael had literally been dead at that time, it would not have changed the fact that he still had been born first! Isaac was “monogenes” not in the sense of being only born, but in the sense that he was the one unique son of Abraham concerning God's promise to bless Abraham and the nations through him.

    So we know that Christ is God's One Unique Son. Go back to John 1:1, which I'm sure you're familiar with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

    “Jehovah's Witnesses” of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in their NWT “translation” places the indefinite article “a” before God, in order to diminish Christ to being “a god”, and not “the God”. It is true in this place that the definite article is not there in the Greek. However, the Greek of the New Testament does not have an indefinite article. Just because the definite article is not there does not necessarily mean that the noun is indefinite. Even in the NWT in several places in The Gospel of John, “Theos” without the article is correctly translated as “God”, and not “a god”. But in John 1:1 they use “a god”, not because it is required linguistically, but because they have a doctrinal bias against the Deity of Christ.

    The interesting thing about John 1:1, is that in the Greek, the last phrase is in reverse word order. A literal translation is “God was the Word”. We see here that “God” is neither definite nor indefinite, but rather, it is qualitative. Both the Greek and English allows for qualitative usage of nouns. I can say “human is man”, and what I mean is not “a human”, but that mankind possesses all the qualities and attributes of humanity. The qualitative usage in John 1:1 means that the Word possesses all the qualities and attributes (the very essence) of God.
    Since the Word was made flesh, we know this is referring to Christ.

    Obviously, the Apostle John would have had this in mind when writing John 3:16, for he starts his record with the true testimony that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Since Christ is fully God, “monogenes” would have to mean unique. The “what” of Christ's uniqueness necessarily therefore infuses the meaning of true Deity into the phrase “Son of God” when applied only to Him.

    I hope this has been helpful to you.


  23. Hi Rachel,

    Nice blog!

    I'm not presumptious enough to say that you have it all wrong, but just offering a different starting point. When Jesus says:

    "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42 NASB

    he does not tell them to abandon Judaism. He is telling them where they have lost the plot. This is important in understanding that Jesus and the Jews were using the same frame of referance, the same categories of ideas. For example, eternal life is not living forever: we both know that saved and unsaved people both live forever, just not in the same place!

    Eternal life is describing modalities, a type of lifestyle, if you wish. A good Jew is one who studies Torah and obeys Torah. Unfortunately, studying Torah does not automaticallly mean understanding it, especially the important part:

    "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; John 5:39 NASB

    IOW, the Jews knew the "what" but not the "how". Hint:
    “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. John 17:3

    When a Jewish person studies Torah and obeys Torah, he is ready for Chayei Olah (Eternal Life) in the world to come (Olam Habah). Disobedient Jews who neglect Torah faces Chayei Sha’a in the Olam Hazeh (a carnal lifestyle in the present world) and no share in the world to come. Interestingly, obedient believers already HAVE eternal life in Olam Hazeh.

    What was the revelation from God that gives Eternal Life?

    You know, N. T. Wright commented that he found the Gospels pretty confusing till he studied a bit about Judaism. Then he found out that Jesus and the Jewish people were discussing the same things. Pity that modern Western Theology is now THE group that has lost the plot.

  24. Missy,

    To add on to Susan's answer about Hebrews 1:3-4, we must remember that while Jesus ("the Son") is equal in nature and essence to the Father, they do have different roles. Those roles were especially notable while Jesus was on earth. That's why you see the Scripture talking frequently of Jesus being "in submission" to the Father or the Father's will.

    But separate roles do not diminish their equality of nature. Just because the Holy Spirit didn't die on the cross doesn't make Him less God. So too, the Son taking on human form ("Jesus") didn't make Him less God. Philippians 2:5-11 explains this pretty well. The Son was always God, but at the incarnation he humbled himself, and now he has been exalted. It's not that he was at some point "not God", but that in his human form he had set aside many of the "God" privileges which have now been restored.

    What exactly are you questioning by highlighting the parts of Heb. 1 and John 1 that mention that the world was created through the Son? I have an idea, but I'd rather just hear it from you instead of guessing. :-)

  25. Btw Missy, hope your family got some dinner last night. It was Friday, so you maybe you just ordered pizza (that's what I would do!). :-)

  26. Hi Art,

    Thanks for dropping by! Haven't seen you in awhile. :-)

    What I have seen about Matt. 15:24 (Jesus saying that he was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" is that Jesus' primary mission while on earth was to the Jews. Thus John 3 is true in that the gospel is for "whoever", but while Jesus was on earth he preached primarily to the Jews. Even in the Great Commission Jesus commands his disciples to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature".

    Personally, I can even see the possiblity of Jesus using sarcasm as a sort of "test" for this woman. Because he seems rather indignant with his first two comments to her, but when she persists, he suddenly turns 180 degrees and remarks that her faith is "great" and does what she asked (healed her daughter). Jesus' turnabout is so sudden that it seems to me that He was just testing her to see how she would respond. When she "passes the test", he immediately gives her what she wanted. I think the whole story precludes any kind of conflict with the "whoever" in John 3 due to the fact that Jesus does indeed heal the woman's daughter, and in fact declares her faith to be "great".

    There's also the story of the Good Samaritan, as well as Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, and eventually the rest of her village (where He stayed for 2 days), in John 4. Jesus may have come initially for the Jews, but clearly the message of His gospel is available for the whole world.

  27. Hi Daniel! Good to see you around again. I always appreciate your posts.

    Isaiah 9:6 is another good verse proving the deity of the Son, with the reference to calling him "Mighty God". I'm not so sure about the "government" reference though, I could see where someone could have the "government on his shoulder" without necessarily being God. But certainly the "Mighty God" name of the Son is very strong.

    I do agree that Jesus is claiming deity in John 8:24 by saying that people must believe that "I am" or they will die in their sins. It is true that the Jews respond with "who are you?" here, whereas in John 8:58 they respond by trying to stone him. But I believe the difference is that 8:58 is just that much more clear than 8:24. 8:58 has Jesus saying without a doubt, "Before Abraham was, I am". While 8:24 is a slightly more subtle claim to deity, Jesus simply says that we must believe that "I am". It seems the Pharisees are trying to draw out a clear, "stonable" claim with their response of, "who are you?"

    Or, as I look at it closer, perhaps 8:24 ends a conversation and 8:25 is a different conversation. 8:25 doesn't say that the Pharisees "responded" with the question of "who are you", in fact there appears to be some sort of break or change to a different part of the conversation. It is true that apparently the Pharisees don't try to stone him after 8:24 (although maybe they did and John simply didn't record it), but that isn't a deal-breaker.

  28. Hi Phil and Anton!

    I'll be back later to respond to you both, baby waking up from nap right now...

  29. Phil,

    Thanks for your insights into the issue of Christ's deity. Your comments on John 1:1 were very interesting and helpful!

  30. Daniel, its good to hear from you. Great information - and thank you for addressing what is definitely growing into my next consideration. ;)

    Phil, it was certainly helpful, and I always love a good word study. Thank you.

    Hi, Rachel. Regarding those highlighted points in John 1 and Heb 1, I was just having an "Ah-ha Experience" out loud. The Word = God = world created through him = the Son.

    I like the NT scriptures I can also take back to the OT to test my understanding, and these two scriptures and so much more here has given me a lot to test!

    I'm sorry my appeal for understanding has taken over you blog, but it is very exciting to get so much help!

    Fortunately, crock-pot chili was in the works last night and cornbread and serving was all that was needed.

    I have a lot to work through here, and may return to pose any questions that come up in the next few days.

    Thanks again, everyone!

  31. Hi Anton,

    I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to you on my group blog... I know it's been a long time! I will respond to you over there soon. :-)

    I'm having difficulty understanding your exact point here, however. Are you saying that we need to keep the Torah/Law in order to receive eternal life?

    You asked,

    "What was the revelation from God that gives Eternal Life?"

    This is exactly what I am trying to present in this series. I maintain that the revelation from God that gives eternal life (when believed/accepted) is this: that you (everyone) are a sinner, that Jesus as God died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, that He rose from the dead, and that only by believing in Him can you be saved from the consequences of your sin and receive eternal life.

  32. Missy, no problem at all, I love asking questions as well as finding and sharing answers. :-)

  33. You are very welcome Missy and Rachel, I'm glad to help.


  34. Missy:

    Thanks for answering, but I have some comments for you.

    One thing you’ll find about cult churches is that if you get and/or show interest in them, they’ll get interested in you. They are at least as fervent about winning you to Mormonism as you are trying to win them to Christ.

    You need only two doctrines to refuter Mormonism: The Deity of Christ and salvation by grace through faith alone.

    One other thought from the Bible,
    For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds,” (2 John 7-11).


  35. Thank you for the warning, Lou. I do think this scripture allows for some discernment between those who seek to deceive and those who are deceived (which is most of us!) To take it any further than that, I believe, would go against the doctrine of Christ as well.

  36. I think the verses in 2 John about not letting such people into your home provide a good principle regarding false teachings. We should not be "blown about by every wind of doctrine". I think most of you know by now that I am all for questioning things and finding answers. But if we surround ourselves with false doctrine and those that propagate it, and don't ALSO surround ourselves with the truth, it is easy for us to get "warmed up" to false doctrine and eventually allow it in and believe it ourselves. So certainly we must proceed with caution.

    However, I'm not sure we should take this verse so literally as to mean that we cannot allow Mormons and the like to physically step into our house. In the ANE, travellers (especially the religious sort) generally stayed in the home of someone friendly toward their teachings. JP Holding notes: "Beyond that, within the social context of 2 John, the reference is not to giving someone who is homeless a place to stay [or allowing a Mormon missionary into your home for an hour or two], but to giving an itinerant teacher a central headquarters from which to distribute his teaching."

    So again, while I agree that there is a principle in 2 John that it is wise not to give false teachers a lengthy audience, I do not see this verse prohibiting Christians from allowing Mormons into their home at all (although that is exactly what I was taught growing up).

  37. I received an email that offered the following criticism of my article. I wanted to post it here, along with my answer, so that if other readers had a similar criticism, then they could read my answer too.

    Did Nick really understand that Jesus’ use of being “lifted up” meant he was to be crucified?

    First, yes, I think he did understand it. In John 12:32-34, Jesus uses this same "lifted up" phraseology:

    "'And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.' But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. The crowd then answered Him, 'We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, "The Son of Man must be lifted up"? Who is this Son of Man?'"

    Now, in John 3 there is no narrative explaining the "lifted up" phrase as there is here in John 12. But it would seem that "the crowd" that responds to Jesus does indeed understand that he was speaking of his death, because their response is essentially, "what do you mean 'lifted up'? The Christ is supposed to live forever, so if you're going to die [be 'lifted up'] then you can't be the Christ!"

    Clearly they were contrasting being "lifted up" with living forever.

    There is one other time in John where Jesus says that he will be "lifted up". John 8:28 tells us,

    Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me."

    Again, we don't have any narrative to explain what Jesus means by "lift up", but the context would seem clear. What other "lift[ing] up" of Jesus would cause the disciples to know that Jesus is the "Son of Man"?

    Second, even if Nick didn't understand that "lifted up" was referring specifically to crucifixion, it seems that he would have at least understood that it meant death. The emphasis is on Jesus' death as a substitutionary atonement for our sins. The cross simply emphasizes and points out that he will die.

    Third, even if Nick didn't have a clue what Jesus meant there, that doesn't change my point that that is indeed what Jesus meant. There is no evidence that Nicodemus was saved immediately after this conversation. To say that Nick may not have understood about Jesus' death, but was still saved (and therefore no one else needs to understand either) is rather presumptuous.

    Furthermore, whether or not Nick understood what Jesus was saying isn't even my main point. Jesus IS referring to his death/crucifixion by the Numbers story and the phrase "lifted up" (as verified especially by John 12). Of course John was written AFTER Jesus' death, so anyone reading those words would have clearly understood what was being said. I do think Nick got it when Jesus said it, but even if he hadn't, he got it by the time John wrote his gospel. Jesus' teaching may have gone over Nick's head, but it wouldn't be going over any of the heads of John's readers. The issue is, what exactly is Jesus teaching, not merely what Nicodemus may have understood.

    So I still maintain that, in John 3, Jesus uses the familiar OT story in Numbers to teach the Jews (and by extension, all readers of those words) that we all must believe in Him, and that this belief includes acknowledgement of our sin, belief in Jesus' substitutionary death (on the cross), and belief that Jesus is God.

  38. Another criticism I received by email was basically that I am being too "formulaic" in looking for a "list" of content in John 3, rather than just sort of following Jesus' story with the concluding requirement of belief.

    My answer to this is that the ANE was a high-context society. This means that they didn't explain every little word and nuance because they expected that it was already understood by the intended readers. I would contend that the readers/hearers were already grasping the required content of faith and didn't need it listed out for them as we do today. It wasn't that there was not a specific content to saving faith, but merely that a high-context society such as the ANE didn't require that content to be listed out in a specific way.

    Also, as I stated earlier to Missy, most of our doctrines were formalized as a result of false doctrines being propagated. Doctrines that were generally understood and believed in by the church at large began to be attacked, so they were forced to go back and formalize the exact reasons and Scriptures for the doctrines, when those doctrines were not originally laid out systematically or in a "formulaic" way. The fact that the required content of faith today is not spelled out for us in a neat list does not mean that we should refrain from making such a list. Indeed, some nebulous "believe in Christ" without content to that belief is not only undesirable but insufficient. Even Antonio has argued that saving faith must have content (although obviously we differ on what that content is). Beyond that, I will be addressing the issue of "checklists" later on in this series (see my outline).

  39. Missy,
    I would echo Lou's concern because of my own personal experience. There is a real danger when speaking to cult members and we should not take that lightly. God's word warns us for a good reason. I made the mistake as a new Christian of talking to two JWS, a husband and wife. They came back every week for awhile. I thought I could help them, but I underestimated the power of the enemy. They ended up causing doubts in my mind about Christ's deity that haunted me for some time. The Lord finally brought me through that terrible time and gave me the victory about Christ's deity, but I would never want to go through anything like that again.

    Satan planted those doubts in your mind using those folks. Please be careful Missy!


  40. Hi Rachel,
    I guess I wasn't plain enough in asking my earlier question, for my fear is that your good teaching and skill may actually be making our case vulnerable in John chapter 3. Reading your response, I think this didn't come through. Bear with me please. I certainly agree with you that in our dispensation today Christ's deity, death for our sins and resurrection are necessary to saving faith. That's what you have actually said, in this dispensation. But Rachel, you are taking this back to Nicodemus before the cross whereas not even the 12 disciples understood about Christ's death back then. Luke 18:30-34 couldn't be more clear, "And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things that were spoken" (v.34). Hodges points to John 20:9 as support for his non-cross non-resurrection argument, "For as yet they knew not the Scripture that he should rise from the dead." Therefore, unless you are prepared to explain how the disciples (and Nicodemus) could understand John 3:16 and also have no understanding of Christ's death and resurrection, it looks to me that you are positioning us to be shot down. Our opponents will surely set these Scriptures against us, as they already have to a considerable degree.
    This is why I asked you about Matthew 15:24, "not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," as opposed to "world" and "whosoever" in John 3:16. I was hoping this might draw you to the dispensational difference. Perhaps I should have said more, because it's not just Matthew 15:24, but 10:5,6 too. Making exceptions for a Gentile here or there while saying, "Let the children first be filled, for it is not fitting to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs" (Mark 7:27), is far different from Christ's later teaching through Paul that there is "no difference between the Jew and the Greek" (Rom. 10:12). I'm sure you know Samaritans were Jews (John 4), half Jews anyway. Of course, after his cross and resurrection, Jesus did tell his disciples to go into all the world to every creature. But putting the truth about faith in Christ's death and resurrection back before the cross, and our whosoever gospel, isn't likely to help our case in the long run but may come back to bite us.
    I suspect I may have said more here than might be welcome on this and will not press further. But I do hope you might think a little more about how different things were before and after the cross and that using John 3:16 to teach Nicodemus about the cross, and about God's good news today to all people alike, may actually weaken our case regarding "the faith that should afterward be revealed" (Gal. 3:23).

  41. VA-Susan:

    I am pleased you reiterated my earlier caution about interacting with cult movements. The motive may be to win them, but the danger is their way of thinking could win us.

    The Bible cautions us about interacting with unbelievers for a very good reason; we could become like them, not lose our salvation, but adopted their terrible heresies and lose our testimony and effectiveness for Christ.

    The Bible speaks of putting on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18) and that is for daily living. If you get yourself in the face of the Devil and his so-called “apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13) you’ll need the whole armor, just to defend yourself while you wield the Sword through the Spirit.

    I think most Christians do not have the gift or spiritual power to interact with cultists. It is for most a risky undertaking. Witness to them from the Bible, do not let them teach you, you do not need and should not want to know too much about their belief system. There is a strange attraction to false teaching. To know that they deny the Lord’s deity and are works-based is enough. Answer those problems with biblical answers (1 Peter 3:15).

    Even though this might disturb some of you here: The same from above goes for interacting with the advocates of Lordship Salvation and the Crossless Gospel.

    The Bible is as clear on the Christian’s responsibility to avoid and separate from unbelievers as it is in regard to disobedient brethren who teach these twin false interpretations of the Gospel.

    I can name men who once rejected LS, but were not real clear on all of it, began to interact with LS men to learn more about it, and now embrace it. I sat on the ordination counsel of a young man in 1998 who now embraces 5 point Calvinism and LS.

    I can name men who rejected LS, but were deceived by Hodges and Wilkin and have adopted the Crossless gospel, which is as wrong as LS, just from the opposite end of the theological pendulum swing.

    If you get interested in false teaching, the advocates of false teaching will get interested in you. Please understand that we are all targets for destruction and the Devil has every Christian his crosshairs. Keep that in mind and you’ll be more careful about how and when you interact with cultists and disobedient brethren.

    Cultists make good neighbors, but they are not our friends no more than they are the friends of God.


  42. Hi Art,

    I'll address your concerns tomorrow, but first I want to expand on my "high-context society" point.

    Someone suggested to me that perhaps every culture is a "high-context" culture, including ours (i.e. Western). In case any others are equally as unfamiliar with the concepts of high-context and low-context, I wanted to share some info to explain. Interested readers should check out the Context Group and their various group and individual publications for more information.

    Anthropologist Edward Hall popularized the terms "high context" and "low context" cultures/societies. Wikipedia isn't exactly the most scholarly/authoritative source, but their definition of "high-context" is borne out by others and is decent:

    "High context culture (and the contrasting ‘low context culture’) are terms presented by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his book Beyond Culture. It refers to a culture’s tendency to cater towards in-groups, an in-group being a group that has similar experiences and expectations, from which inferences are drawn. In a high context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain.

    High context cultures are more common in the eastern cultures than in western,
    and in countries with low racial diversity. Cultures where the group is valued over the individual promote the in-groups and group reliance that favor high context cultures. Co-cultures are also conducive to high context situations, where the small group relies on their common background to explain the situation, rather than words. A low context culture explains things further, because those in a low context culture have a wide variety of background

    High context cultures have a strong sense of tradition and history, and change little over time. Many native societies (such as the Māori of New Zealand and the Native Americans.) are high context cultures. The static culture keeps the high context throughout different generations. Low context cultures change drastically from one generation to the next, like the United States."

    It is certainly true, of course, that certain small groups within low-context cultures can and do have higher-context "subcultures" within the greater culture. Examples could include your family, a church/religious group, a work group, etc. But such subcultures are merely highER context than the overall culture, and do not negate the fact that the overall culture is indeed "low context".

    A couple more helpful quotes...

    From here, quoting a book by Malina and Rohrbaugh entitled Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels:

    "The New Testament was written in what anthropologists call a 'high-context' society. People who communicate with each other in high-context societies presume a broadly shared, well-understood knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing. For example, everyone in ancient Mediterranean villages would have had a clear and concrete knowledge of what sowing entailed,largely because the skills involved were shared by most (male) members of that society. no writer would need to explain. Thus writers in such societies usually produce sketchy and impressionistic writings, leaving much to the reader's or hearer's imagination. They also encode much information in widely known symbolic or stereotypical statements. In this way, they require the reader to fill in large gaps in the unwritten portion of the writing. All readers are expected to know the context and therefore to understand the references in question."

    And from here, this is Jonathan Sarfati (popular creationist), from his book Refuting Compromise, in which he utilized Malina and Rohrbaugh's Social-Science on the Gospel of John:

    "That is, its members ‘presume a broadly shared, well-understood, or “high” knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing’. The authors wrote to intended readers with a certain background and expected them to be able to ‘fill in the gap’. There was no need to explain things in depth if they all had a shared, background knowledge. Conversely, we in the modern West are a ‘low-context’ society, and expect the context to be spelt out to us: ‘The obvious problem this creates for reading the biblical writings today is that low-context readers in the United States frequently mistake the biblical writings for low-context documents. They erroneously assume that the author has provided all of the contextual information needed to understand it."

    I hope this has helped clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions that might exist regarding the issue of the "high-context" society of the biblical world.

  43. Rachel - I don't know how you do it! I think I replaced many of my brain cells for kodak memory cells years ago when my children were born. :)

    I have to tell you that after reading your last comment, I am wondering how it is even possible to understand scripture in the light of this high-context culture reference? (It's not like I haven't thought that before, so please don't feel responsible! I think it was an accurate and timely comment.) We have to be missing so much of those insider details - not to mention the incorrect modern context we are likely to insert instead. How can so many of you be so confident in your understanding of scripture?

  44. Hello Missy, you asked how we can be confident in our understanding of Scripture.

    I believe the answer is within Scripture itself. As newborn babes we are to desire the milk of the Word (the foundational basics) so that we can grow spiritually not only in knowledge but also in wisdom and faith. Then we are able to take in and digest the solid meat of the Word.

    By definition nothing should be difficult to understand concerning the milk. Knowing the basics will give us a solid foundation to help understand the more difficult passages of Scripture. But it still takes STUDY.

    Spiritually mature Christians make great mentors and teachers that can aid in one's study.

    Having a genuine desire to do and not just hear God's Word will also help greatly in one's learning. Don't underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth.

    As you gradually gain experience with studying and using the Word of God, you will gain more discernment so that it will be easier to separate out which teachings coming from others are error and which are true. Not everyone always teaches 100% truth.

    Even solid Bible-teaching scholars can make minor mistakes on some issues. If they make major errors then by definition they wouldn't be solid Bible teachers. But you will get better and better at discerning which is which the more you grow.

    One must always strive to rightly divide the Word of God. To skillfully compare Scripture with Scripture in order to understand the meaning of a text.

    To understand that God's Word does not contradict but always harmonizes should press us toward finding harmonious solutions, for they do exist. But at the same time realize that in this life we will not understand everything there is to know. However, we can know enough to live the victorious Christian life that God wants us to live for His glory.


  45. Missy, LOL! Thankfully it doesn't take too many brain cells to google "high context ANE" and copy & paste quotes from truly smart people. :-) And as I've said, I've done quite a bit of debating with atheists and skeptics, and the principle of high-context vs. low-context is necessary for explaining a variety of their "problem" passages. It's a basic, foundational principle to understanding and interpreting the Scriptures (especially the NT). Trust me, there is plenty that is much more difficult for me to grasp!

    However, that doesn't keep me from being confident in my understanding of the Bible. The basic message of the Bible does not require much effort or study to understand. Beyond that though, Phil is right that the Bible requires study. It is an ancient document, written to people in a different culture, time, language, etc. than ours.

    But I don't even see that it's necessary for every Christian to understand everything about the context of the Bible (although it's a noble goal!). I certainly don't. But I do think we can evaluate the study and opinions of others as to their merit. For me personally, confidence comes in always testing. Testing my conclusions by arguing against them myself, by putting them out there for others to argue against (like on this blog!), by reading the arguments of those who hold opposing views, and weighing all of that. Plus, I don't need to know that I have everything exactly perfect. I can't possibly be right on everything, but I can do the best I can and evaluate my beliefs as issues come up. I also graduated from a Bible college, which doesn't make my beliefs right at all, but it did cause me to start evaluating and viewing my beliefs from different angles, as well as hearing some answers. With serious study and discussion/debate, I am able to feel confident in my understanding of Scripture.

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  47. Sorry for the deleted comment above, I hit "publish" when I meant to hit "edit".

    Hi Art,

    Thank you for your kind words. But I am not setting myself up as any kind of authority here. I am not the spokesperson for "our" position. By all means, if you disagree with any of my positions or answers, please do bring it up, let's discuss it. But I certainly wouldn't say that anything I say makes "our" position vulnerable, since I'm not speaking for anyone but myself. And please feel free to "press" anything you have to say, your comments are certainly welcome here. It would take a lot for a comment not to be welcome here. :-)

    To answer your points... first, Luke 18 and John 20 tell us that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying. This doesn't mean that no one at all understood Him. The fact that the disciples didn't get it doesn't exclude the possibility that others did get it.

    Second, I was responding above to the specific question of whether or not Nicodemus understood that "lifted up" meant crucified. As I showed from John 12, "lifted up" was clearly understood by even nonbelievers as referring to crucifixion/death. Just because Nicodemus (IMO) understood that "lifted up" was a reference to crucifixion doesn't mean that he understood everything and "got it" in the sense that he understood WHY Jesus had to be crucified, that He would rise again, etc. When Luke and John say that the disciples didn't understand what Jesus meant, they weren't saying the 12 didn't even understand the words or symbols Jesus used. It's not that Jesus was somehow speaking a different language. They understood his words, but they were failing to understand what Jesus meant and how it would all work out.

    Third, as I said above, even if Nick had no idea what in the world Jesus meant, it still doesn't change the fact that Jesus was indeed teaching about the way of salvation - by believing the gospel. The Gospels describe a time of transition, from the OT to the NT, from the OT animal sacrifices and Law to the NT "living sacrifice[s]" and the Law written on our hearts. And, as a dispensationalist, I would say that while the object and method of saving faith has never changed, clearly the content of saving faith has changed. I have yet to hear Hodges/Wilkin et al. say that Adam, Noah, Moses, etc. actually believed the specific proposition that Jesus is the guarantor of eternal life to all who believe (unless I've missed it!). So even they acknowledge that the content of saving faith has changed.

    So the Gospels are showing the period of transition from one dispensation to the next. Jesus is bringing in the "new" stuff, the "new" (or really, more specific and clear) content of saving faith. The fact that most of the people around him didn't understand everything about that "new" content until after it all happened doesn't mean that we don't need to understand it. I see the disciples (and some other NT characters) as falling under the OT dispensation, many likely "saved" before ever meeting Jesus (more on that in section II b. of my outline, the "crossless" argument that "people in the NT were saved w/o believing these things"). So they didn't "need" to understand about Jesus' death and rez right away because they were already "saved". But once it all happened, it clicked with them and they understood what he had been teaching. The gospel of Jesus as God dying for our sins and rising from the dead was being taught by Jesus throughout his ministry. The fact that many didn't understand exactly what he was teaching until after it all happened doesn't change the fact that this was indeed what Jesus was teaching.

    So, that's how I would "explain how the disciples (and Nicodemus) could understand John 3:16 and also have no understanding of Christ's death and resurrection". :-)

    Btw, you seem to be saying (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that while on earth, Jesus continued to teach the OT content of saving faith, and that it was only after his death and resurrection that people began teaching that we need to believe in Jesus' death and resurrection for salvation. But this would seem to lead to us not being able to use any of Jesus' words, or really anything prior to his death and resurrection, in evangelism (including John 3:16). Perhaps you are saying then that Jesus' words had a double meaning, that he intended initially for the people then to continue to believe the OT way (with the new aspect that He was the fulfillment of it all), but that later, after his rez, we would know that we now needed to believe in his death and rez and thus we could fill that meaning back into his words.

    Or maybe it's something completely different. :-) Please do share, what do you think Jesus is teaching in John 3:16? I have some issues with the 2 views I brought up above, but I wanted to wait to hear from you as to what your view actually is, so I don't waste time arguing against a phantom position. :-)

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  49. Thanks, Phil and Rachel. I am not a Bible scholar, but I am a literary scholar, so maybe I read and interpret scripture differently with that as my background. And, I am currently a "tax collector" so maybe that gives me an unusually ironic perspective. :)

    I have a tendency towards imaginative assumptions with what I consider ambiguous or highly symbolic passages, and I overcompensate with the very methodical grammatical approach of sentence diagramming. My conclusions are often not in line with those of my peers. It gives me a certain humility that I value, but little confidence.

    But one thing I am confident of, as Phil stated, God's word has harmony. If scripture appears to have contradictions, I feel compelled to search out my understanding until I find that harmony.

    I think Lou and Susan will be glad to know that my last visit from the LDS (which I only allow when my husband or a close Christian friend are present) was ended peacefully, but abruptly after the young man implied, after I questioned his belief in the Book of Mormon, that the Bible was less than reliable in comparison. I do have my convictions.

  50. Hi Rachel,
    I will try to be as brief as I can, skipping what details I can. A lot is involved. Regarding my view of salvation before and after the cross:
    1. First, I understand people to have always been saved by belief in God's declaration of a coming Redeemer, beginning with Gen. 3:15. Early saints didn't have to know the Redeemer's name nor exactly how he would defeat the devil. But they did believe a coming Redeemer would make things right between God and themselves. Job made a great statement about this, "I know that my Redeemer liveth . . ." (19:25ff).
    2. Second, when Jesus' ministry began, it then became necessary to believe that he, Jesus, the Son of God, is that promised Redeemer. People now had to believe specifically in him, Jesus. My understanding is that the Father gave all the O.T. saints to Jesus, guaranteeing that all of them, upon hearing about him, would believe that he is indeed the one in whom they had believed. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me." "My sheep hear my voice," etc.
    It is important to acknowledge that, at that time (during Jesus' earthly ministry), the "gospel" did not yet include Christ's death for our sins. He hadn't yet died. Therefore, the disciples preached "the gospel" (Luke 9:6), but as pointed out, did not yet understand about his death and resurrection (Luke 18:31-34). I do agree with you, this doesn't prove no one could yet have understood about Christ's coming death (Jesus himself certainly understood it and I wonder if maybe John the Baptist did, John 1:29) but the fact that the disciples didn't understand it does prove this wasn't required knowledge as yet.
    3. Third, on the day our Lord arose from the dead, he met with his disciples and "opened their understanding" to what the Scriptures had said about him (Luke 24:44,45), which means they now understood passages like Isaiah 53. Old Testament prophets searched their own writings trying to understand what they wrote about the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 1:11). Now, the disciples did understand those Scriptures. Jesus expounded to them why it had been necessary (examine the little Greek word dei translated "thus" in Luke 24:46) for him to suffer and arise from the dead. And so here we have "the faith that should afterward be revealed" (Gal. 3:23) and concerning which Paul said "whether it were I or they (the twelve) so we preach and so ye believed" (1 Cor. 15:11) and this content of faith has been necessary ever since. Manifestly, Paul's gospel focuses on this content of faith and particularly its relevance where Gentiles are concerned.
    That's what I believe about salvation before and after the cross.
    About using verses in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There certainly are fundamentals our message has in common with the preaching of the disciples when Jesus was here on earth. People do need to be saved; Jesus, God's only begotten Son, is the Savior; we must trust in him for eternal life. All of this is still true and is underlying support for our message today but by itself is not good enough because it doesn't go far enough. Our message is the faith that should afterward be revealed.
    So what, particularly, about verses in the Gospel of John? All agree that John was written well after Paul's ministry was under way. My understanding is that John was led by God the Holy Spirit to select statements by Jesus that can still be applied, so far as they go, and to provide appropriate commentary in our dispensation today. That's where 3:16 comes to light for me. Everyone recognizes that somewhere in John 3 Jesus' words end and John's commentary resumes. My inclination is to go with Bullinger about this in the notes of the Companion Bible (seeing the change after verse 12) but at the latest with C.F. Baker between verse 15 and 16. That's what I believe. Without this, I don't think we can maintain (with consistency) that in this dispensation knowledge is required for salvation that wasn't required before. And this, I think, must be maintained in order to refute the Hodges/Wilkin message of a crossless gospel.

  51. Correction: "Behooved," is the word from the little Greek word dei in Luke 24:46. Same point though. Necessary, why Christ had to suffer and come back from the dead.

  52. Art:

    You wrote, “...I don't think we can maintain (with consistency) that in this dispensation knowledge is required for salvation that wasn't required before. And this, I think, must be maintained in order to refute the Hodges/Wilkin message of a Crossless gospel.”

    I have just a few minutes, but I want to express my appreciation for your use of the dispensational aspect that is IMO crucial to addressing and refuting the Crossless gospel.

    In September 2007 Ron Shea accepted the challenge to debate Bob Wilkin, which he (Wilkin) had been calling for, for months. (See- An Open Challenge…)

    Of course many of us remember Wilkin suddenly and inexplicably lost his fervor for the debate he had been calling for once Ron Shea accepted the challenge.

    In any event, Ron Shea formulated the following Proposed Terms

    I propose that the topic being addressed is directed specifically to:
    “In the present dispensation, what is the content of saving faith?” and/or
    “In the present dispensation, is a belief in Jesus’ divinity, His atoning death, and/or His resurrection necessary for faith in Jesus to constitute saving faith?”

    Brother Shea knew that this issue must be addressed from a dispensational view. IMO, this is one of reasons why Wilkin backed out of the debate.

    If the debate were held under the “present dispensation” terms, Wilkin, Hodges the GES lose on every point.


  53. [I think Lou and Susan will be glad to know that my last visit from the LDS (which I only allow when my husband or a close Christian friend are present) was ended peacefully, but abruptly after the young man implied, after I questioned his belief in the Book of Mormon, that the Bible was less than reliable in comparison. I do have my convictions.]

    So glad to hear that, Missy! :0)


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  55. Missy:

    You wrote, "I think Lou and Susan will be glad to know that my last visit from the LDS (which I only allow when my husband or a close Christian friend are present) was ended peacefully, but abruptly after the young man implied, after I questioned his belief in the Book of Mormon, that the Bible was less than reliable in comparison. I do have my convictions."



  56. Hi Art,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue. I've been mulling over your post for the last several days.

    In your first point, you said,

    "Early saints didn't have to know the Redeemer's name nor exactly how he would defeat the devil. But they did believe a coming Redeemer would make things right between God and themselves."

    I can agree with this. I also think that strongly implicit in the belief that the coming Redeemer/Messiah would "make things right between God and themselves" is an acknowledgement of sin, as well as an understanding that the One who would "make things right" would be divine. As I stated in my article, if it's possible for even one mere human to reconcile himself to God, that would seem to violate the basic message of Christianity, that we can't do it on our own due to sin and need God to bring himself to us (note also the running theme in the Bible of God hating pride and honoring humility).

    I actually see this as a problem for the "crossless" position, because they like to say how the content of the gospel is the same as it was in Jesus' day, i.e. "believe that Jesus alone can give you eternal life". They view that understanding and acknowledgement of sin is not necessary. However, it would seem that the most obvious constant of the required content of saving faith throughout all of history has been an acknowledgement of sin. If they want to go back to OT times I believe they will find a consistent acknowledgement of sin. An example would be the Numbers story Jesus referred to in John 3 that I mentioned in my article. Also, all the OT sacrifices, the ritual purity, God's presence in the temple, etc. all communicate that man is "over here" and God is "over there" and sin is the separator.

    For your second point, you said,

    "Second, when Jesus' ministry began, it then became necessary to believe that he, Jesus, the Son of God, is that promised Redeemer. People now had to believe specifically in him, Jesus."

    I agree with this as well.

    Then you said,

    "My understanding is that the Father gave all the O.T. saints to Jesus, guaranteeing that all of them, upon hearing about him, would believe that he is indeed the one in whom they had believed. 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.' 'My sheep hear my voice,' etc."

    I just don't see anything in the verses you mentioned to restrict them to only the OT saints. I do believe that true OT saints who eventually heard of Jesus would believe that He was the one they were believing in. But I don't see those verses as teaching that specifically. The verses don't seem to be referencing OT saints in particular.

    You said,

    "It is important to acknowledge that, at that time (during Jesus' earthly ministry), the 'gospel' did not yet include Christ's death for our sins."

    I agree with this to an extent. I would say that "the gospel" did not at that time include Christ's death, but I do think that Jesus was teaching that it was to include his death once it had happened. I believe that Jesus was ushering in the new content of the gospel, not so much that he was requiring belief in the "new" parts (his death and rez) at that very moment, since they hadn't actually happened yet, but that he was telling us that those things would be required once they did happen. And this is evidenced by the apostles (especially Paul) teaching us that "the gospel" includes Christ's death and rez.

    You said,

    "the fact that the disciples didn't understand it does prove this wasn't required knowledge as yet."

    I agree. I consider everyone before Christ's resurrection an OT saint, thus not being required to believe in his death and rez. But that doesn't mean that Jesus wasn't teaching those things as required. I think that Jesus was explaining, sort of, "this is how it's going to be".

    Regarding Luke 24, I just don't see how the fact that the disciples now understood prophetic OT passages about Christ's death and rez means that those things are now part of the required content of faith. Jesus had told them that he would have to die and rise again several times, but they didn't "get it". Now, they "got it" and saw how the OT did in fact prophesy those things. But I don't see any indication from those verses that all would now be required to believe those things.

    You said,

    "Everyone recognizes that somewhere in John 3 Jesus' words end and John's commentary resumes."

    I'm not sure about "everyone". I researched this a lot and found many many people at various levels of education who believe that John 3:16 is Jesus' words, and made no mention of any other possibility. I did find a few who think the verse is John's words. Do you know how the experts determine where Jesus' words stop and John's words begin in other passages? I don't really see any obvious clues that mark the end of Jesus' words or the beginning of John's words.

    I guess I don't see a problem with 3:16 being from Jesus because, as I said earlier, I believe Jesus was teaching the "new content", but that it wasn't necessarily required until after those things had happened. Really, 3:16 only says that we need to "believe in Him". It doesn't say exactly what that means. What I'm trying to say in this article is that the context of acknowledgement of sin, Jesus' deity, and his death tell us what Jesus means when he says "believe in [Me]".

    I do think it is illogical to require belief in the crucifixion before it happened. I think that is equal to requiring belief in the name of Jesus before the incarnation. Nevertheless, I still contend that belief in His death was exactly what Jesus was teaching that would be required after it happened.

  57. Hi Rachel,

    I appreciate you considering what I posted. I value very much your thoughts in the series you have begun. It looks to me that your presentation is powerful and good. But seeing this, my thinking has been that crossless people will desire to neutralize the foundation text you started with, and that they are set to do this, parroting Hodges' use of John 20:9 and similar texts. I think you are directly on target that "gave His only begotten Son" does refer to the cross, for there is no other sense in which the Father "gave" the Son He had "begotten."

    The problem however, is that if Jesus informed Nicodemus, the unbeliever, about salvation through Christ lifted up on the cross this conflicts with the cross being hidden information at that time, unless Nicodemus didn't get it, which then seems awkward to maintain with so much said about it in John 3, that is, if all of this was actually said to Nicodemus. It is true of course that now, in retrospect, we are able to appreciate Jesus having in mind the way things would be after the cross, but to think this was explained for Nicodemus to understand it is considerably difficult. John the Baptist understood it, maybe (based on John 1:29), but that's about it. There is more to say more about this.

    I do want to stress that I agree with you that John 3:16 does refer to the cross and that a knowledge of the cross is necessary to saving faith today.

    I also appreciate very much your point about sin being man's problem all along and about the Redeemer being implicitly divine. Satan maniplated Adam into sin and thereby alienated mankind from God, which of course, is why a Redeemer was needed - someone to defeat the devil and the problem of sin he injected between God and man. And I'm glad you see, as I thought you do, that belief that Christ is that Redeemer became necessary once his ministry began. As to the sheep given to Christ, if you hold that these include unsaved people, I suppose we will disagree about that. I referred to this because I think the prospect of an OT saint (still alive during Jesus' ministry) refusing to believe in him would be quite a problem, one that doesn't exist if my take on "all that the Father giveth me" etc, is correct. But maybe you have another way to solve that. You do say you believe all the OT saints, still living, upon hearing about him, would acknowledge that Jesus was the one in whom they had believed. Anyway, up to this point I was able to follow your post pretty well. But after this, your remarks become rather difficult, for me anyway.

  58. Continuing to Rachel:

    Difficult, for one thing, because I'm not following your earlier suggestion about the Gospels being transitional. The book of Acts, yes, but the Gospels? I'm not sure that's right. That, with your comment here about ushering in new content not yet required leaves me unsure what to make of your "ushering in" idea. I'm having a lot of difficulty getting clear now on just what your take is about Jesus' remarks concerning his coming death and resurrection. At first, I thought you were claiming Jesus spoke our gospel today to Nicodemus. But now, reading your post, I'm puzzled. Do you think Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he, Nicodemus, had to believe that he, the only begotten Son, had already been given by the Father so that he, Nicodemus, won't perish but have everlasting life? If so, is there any other text where anyone was saved before the cross like this? In reading Luke 18:34 did you notice that the 12 not only didn't understand but that it says this was actually "hid from them?" Isn't this the reason they didn't understand when they heard about the cross - it was "hid" from them? Who hid it from them? Why would this be hidden from the 12 but not others like Nicodemus? Isn't it true that the meaning of the cross was hidden so Satan and his forces wouldn't understand about this until it was too late (1 Cor. 2:8)? In my comments, I've tried to infer that a veil of sorts was upon the Scriptures (where Christ's suffering for sin was concerned) and that this was removed in Luke 24:45,46, so that since then we've had the faith that should afterward be revealed. But if this isn't so, then C.R. Stam would appear to be correct in claiming it wasn't until Paul that anybody preached salvation through faith in Christ's death for our sins. It is hard to produce a text that says anybody did preach salvation through faith in Christ's death before Paul. I'd be very surprised if you could produce one. But if "understanding" is the issue, which I think it is, I am able to see this particular change at Luke 24 with Jesus opening the disciples' understanding to the OT Scriptures and saying "thus it behooved Christ to suffer" and that repentance and remission should now be preached in his name who died and rose again. Maybe you're not familiar with C.R. Stam and those today who hold his mid-Acts inaugeration of our gospel. It's an involved system pertaining largely to what Paul calls "the mystery of the gospel" in Ephesians. A lot of demanding material has been published about it. Be that as it may, the bottom line in what I've questioned about your case is simply this. If John 3:16 informed Nicodemus that Christ was lifted up on the cross so people can believe in him and be saved, the ignorance of the disciples is hard to account for and suggests maybe you are seeing more in John 3 than is there. If on the other hand, John 3:16 wasn't spoken by Jesus but was written by John decades later, then your observations about this text are terrific and are perfectly in line with the gospel of salvation we now preach. I really don't see how any of us can oppose Hodges' claim that the disciples were saved before they understood about the cross. But we differ with him because he wants to bring this over to the way things are now.

  59. Continuing to Rachel:

    As to a lot more people thinking Jesus spoke John 3:16 than John, I don't think means much, except that I do think Bible students would benefit from seeing this as post-cross material if they would. Bullinger wrote this: "There is nothing whatever in the context to show where the paragraph breaks should be in this chapter; either in the MSS., or in the versions." After citing what several versions have done, he then says, "The Companion Bible makes the important break at v.13: (1) because the past tenses which follow indicate completed events; (2) because the expression 'only begotten Son' is not used by the Lord himself, but only by the Evangelist (1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9); (3) because 'in the name of' (v18) is not used by the Lord but by the Evangelist (1:12; 2:23; 1 John 5:13); (4) because to do the truth (v21) occ. elsewhere only in 1 John 1:6; (5) because 'Who is in heaven' (v.13) points to the fact that the Lord had already ascended at the time John wrote; (6) because the word 'lifted up' refers both to the 'sufferings' (v.14; 8:28; 12:32,34) and to the 'glory that should follow' (8:28; 12:32; Acts 2:33; 5:31); and (7) because the break at v.13 accords best with the context, as shown by the Structure B above." [You would need to see a copy of the Companion Bible to see what he refers to as the "Structure."]

    For me, John 3:16 just doesn't fit during the time when information about the cross was still being hidden. So I either give it up as a verse about the cross or see it as a post-cross explanation of salvation by John.

  60. Hi Art, it's taken me awhile to get to this... I've actually had this window open on my desktop for several days with the first half of this comment done. I'm finally finishing it! Thanks for your patience. :-)

    You said,

    "The problem however, is that if Jesus informed Nicodemus, the unbeliever, about salvation through Christ lifted up on the cross this conflicts with the cross being hidden information at that time..."

    The cross had been hidden information up to the time of Christ. But now that Jesus was on the scene, he was telling people of that information. Jesus told people often that he was to die, that the Messiah was to die. He even seemed to think that the Pharisees, etc. should have had at least some kind of rudimentary understanding of the OT references to the suffering of the Christ. The cross may have been hidden pre-Christ, but now that Jesus is here he is revealing it to the people. Clearly Jesus talks about the cross/his death often throughout the gospels. So for him to speak of it in John 3 doesn't seem unusual in the least.

    Regarding the sheep that hear Jesus' voice, "all that the Father gives me", etc. ... I don't think they are people who are unsaved, i.e. people who will remain unsaved and spend eternity in hell. On the contrary, I think Jesus is simply talking about all people who will be saved, OT, NT, whenever. I hold that "the sheep" include currently unsaved people (indeed, currently unborn people) who will eventually be saved. Since God/Jesus knows the future, he can speak of the future as if it is the present. The Bible does this sometimes, for instance Ephesians 1 says that Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world. Jesus said that he lays down his life "for the sheep". I don't see any reason to limit these verses to only OT saints i.e. people who had already believed. I guess I don't see a "problem" of any OT saint not believing in Jesus because I believe in eternal security/perseverance of the saints. A true OT saint will of course believe in Jesus at some point, otherwise they were not true believers.

    I'll try to separate my comments according to how you separated yours, so I'll reply to your next comment in my next comment. :-)

  61. Art,

    Regarding my saying that the Gospels are "transition", I'm referring to the transition from the OT way of approaching and interacting with God, to the NT way. Jesus said in Luke 5 that you don't put new wine into old wineskins, indicating that He was bringing a new way of doing things - he was the "new wine".

    Acts is also a transition book, from the direct authority of the apostles to the more indirect "authority" of each individual believer (bound together in local groups under individual shepherds). But the Gospels are clearly a transition, Jesus is establishing that he is bringing a new way of coming to God and interacting with God and others. That's partly why Jesus was so "controversial", because he did so many things differently than the religious leaders and the "norm" for the day. I hope that helps you understand my use of the word "transition" for the Gospels. My main reason in using that word is because I do not see the Gospels and Jesus' message as simply more of the same as what we see in the OT. Jesus is not merely proclaiming the OT message. He is explaining and specifying it... He IS the OT message, in a sense. They were no longer looking forward to the Messiah, they were looking at the Messiah. The waiting was over. Things were changing now. So that is what I mean by "the Gospels are transitional".

    You asked,

    "Do you think Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he, Nicodemus, had to believe that he, the only begotten Son, had already been given by the Father so that he, Nicodemus, won't perish but have everlasting life? If so, is there any other text where anyone was saved before the cross like this?"

    Yes, I believe that's what Jesus was telling Nicodemus. However, I am not saying that Nicodemus was necessarily saved at that point, nor am I saying that if Nicodemus believed the OT message of salvation, but did not yet believe in the cross and rez, that he wasn't saved. All I'm saying is that Jesus is telling Nick, "this is how it's going to be from now on". I don't think that Jesus was necessarily requiring Nick to believe in the cross and rez at that very moment (and of course Jesus doesn't mention the rez in John 3 anyway). Of course, if Nick were to believe at that moment, all the better for him. But whether or not Nick was already saved prior to speaking with Jesus in John 3, Jesus is telling him that this is the "new" way to be born again now. This is what you must accept/believe. I don't see this as any different than the event in Acts where Paul finds some of John the Baptist's disciples who hadn't heard of the "new way", and they are informed and accept the new way.

    This is why I see a "transition" in the Gospels. Jesus was informing and announcing the new way, and it would take some time for him to explain it and for them to accept it. But once it all happened and they (the original followers) accepted it, we see them rapidly disseminating this new way to everyone (per Jesus' command in the Great Commission) throughout Acts and beyond.

    Back to your last question, since I'm not saying that Nick was actually saved by belief in the cross before the cross, I don't need to find any other texts that show this happening either.

    You said,

    "In my comments, I've tried to infer that a veil of sorts was upon the Scriptures (where Christ's suffering for sin was concerned) and that this was removed in Luke 24:45,46, so that since then we've had the faith that should afterward be revealed."

    I think I can agree with this. I'm not saying that Jesus actually required anyone before the cross to believe in the cross. But I am saying that he was announcing that it would be required after it happened, so that once it did happen, the disciples (and others) would remember his words and say, "Oh! That's what He was talking about!" But if it that wasn't what He was in fact talking about, then how could they have made that connection? Luke 18 indicates that the disciples didn't "get it" when Jesus was saying that he'd have to die, etc. That doesn't mean they heard him saying gibberish. They heard and understood his words. They knew he was saying that he would die. They just didn't comprehend it because they weren't expecting that he would really physically die (especially since death on a cross in particular was completely shameful in ANE culture, they wouldn't even say the WORD "cross"... so you can understand how when Jesus said he was going to die, and on a cross to boot, that they figured it couldn't be right). They figured he must mean something else. So even though salvation by faith through Jesus' death and rez was "hidden" to an extent until after it happened, that doesn't mean at all that Jesus wasn't declaring it. I am saying that Jesus was declaring these things. After these things happened, they finally figured out what Jesus was teaching and taught it to others. My point is simply that Jesus was indeed teaching these things, i.e. salvation by faith alone in Jesus as God dying for our sins and rising from the dead.

    You said,

    "It is hard to produce a text that says anybody did preach salvation through faith in Christ's death before Paul. I'd be very surprised if you could produce one."

    Perhaps not those exact words, but remember again that we are dealing with a high-context society. I am hard-pressed to believe that the sermons we read from Peter, Stephen, etc. are complete. They are so short that they are no doubt summaries of what was spoken. I think you are asking too much to say that if we fail to find direct statements from the other apostles regarding the required content of saving faith, then they therefore did not preach it. Also, what do you say then of the Great Commission? Jesus tells the apostles to "preach the gospel to every creature". If "the gospel" at that time did not include the death and rez, why did he tell them to preach this "crossless" gospel to everyone? Clearly the apostles are preaching to people (many of whom are getting saved, by the thousands) before Paul begins his ministry. If you say that no one before Paul preached salvation through the death and rez, then you have a strange period of time where the other apostles understood what Jesus had been telling them about his death and rez, but weren't preaching it until Paul tells them that now they need to begin preaching it. That seems an extremely awkward and forced interpretation of the pertinent texts.

    You said,

    "If John 3:16 informed Nicodemus that Christ was lifted up on the cross so people can believe in him and be saved, the ignorance of the disciples is hard to account for and suggests maybe you are seeing more in John 3 than is there."

    I'm not seeing a problem here. Jesus informed not just Nicodemus, but the Pharisees and many others, including the disciples, that he would die on a cross and that they would need to believe in him to be saved. The fact that pretty much nobody actually comprehended Jesus' teachings until after his death and rez doesn't mean he wasn't teaching those things. The ignorance of the disciples does not mean that Jesus was teaching something different. I just don't see how the fact that most of Jesus' listeners didn't actually understand what he was saying means that he must have been saying something else. Their ignorance doesn't negate what he was in fact teaching.

    You said,

    "I really don't see how any of us can oppose Hodges' claim that the disciples were saved before they understood about the cross."

    I see the disciples as OT saints regarding their content of saving faith. So I'm not even trying to oppose that particular claim of Hodges. What I am opposing is Hodges' attempt to say that since the disciples were saved w/o understanding the cross and rez, then we today can be saved that way too. Part of my way of opposing that is to look to the Scripture to see if we can find what Jesus (and others) meant when they said that to be born again we must "believe in Jesus". What precisely did Jesus want them to believe about Him? My point with this article is to show that John 3 gives us some (most) of what Jesus means: faith alone that Jesus as God died for sins (and implicitly, rose from the dead).

  62. Art,

    You said,

    "As to a lot more people thinking Jesus spoke John 3:16 than John, I don't think means much, except that I do think Bible students would benefit from seeing this as post-cross material if they would."

    I agree that it doesn't necessarily mean much that more people think John 3:16 is Jesus' words. I only mentioned it in response to your earlier statement that "Everyone recognizes that somewhere in John 3 Jesus' words end and John's commentary resumes." You seemed to think that it was common knowledge or commonly agreed upon, and I was simply pointing out that it's not so commonly known or agreed upon.

    Regarding the 7 reasons from the notes in your Bible as to why 3:16 is Jesus' words. 1) refers to the past tenses in the verses after 13. Yet v. 14 says that as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That is not past tense, it is future. The only other verb that seems to matter in the next verses as to its tense would be "gave" from v. 16. And, as I argued in my post, I do think that "gave" refers to the cross, but again, we also have Ephesians 1 where it is said that Jesus was crucified before the world was even created. In the same vein, once Jesus was born, he had effectively been "given" as our crucified Savior.

    #s 2-4 are the same type of thing, saying that certain phrases are only used by John and not by Jesus. But this seems to beg the question, perhaps this is the one time Jesus did use the phrases. They also seem rather generic,"in the name of" and doing the truth can't really be said to be unique to John. No doubt Jesus did speak of these things during his ministry.

    #5 - hmm, is Bulinger saying that the break comes before v. 13? V. 13 seems to be a little cryptic as far as what exactly its purpose is in the passage. But based on v. 12, 13 seems to be saying that Jesus has authority to speak of both "heavenly things" AND "earthly things" because he alone, as the "Son of Man" has been in heaven and earth. The last phrase "who is in heaven" is disputed and not in many of the manuscripts. That would seem to indicate it was added by later/other scribes to preserve the truth that Jesus was still alive and/or is reigning in heaven as God.

    In any event, I don't think this verse indicates that Jesus has already ascended in the sense of "The Ascension". Back in John 1:51 Jesus was speaking to Nathaniel and referenced Gen. 28:12, Jacob's dream of a ladder set "on the earth with its top reaching to heaven", indicating that He was the fulfillment of that dream, being himself the ladder. But in the dream, the ladder (aka Jesus) was "reaching" heaven while still on earth. So it seems that there is some fluidity when speaking of Jesus being on earth and in heaven. I certainly don't see this as a deal-breaker for my view that 3:16 is Jesus' words.

    #6 - I don't see where any verse indicates that "lifted up" refers to the "glory that should follow". Neither 8:28 or 12:32 refer to this "glory", 12:32 in fact is specifically defined by 12:33 which says it refers to his death. And neither of the Acts verses say "lifted up", they say "exalted" which is obviously different.

    #7 - As you note, I don't know what "Structure B" is, but to say that his view "accords best with the context" seems to be begging the question. Whether or not a break at v. 13 fits the context is the very question up for discussion. Thus a conclusion cannot also be a point of the argument.

    You said,

    "For me, John 3:16 just doesn't fit during the time when information about the cross was still being hidden."

    And again I will say that clearly "information about the cross" was not being hidden, in fact Jesus was constantly revealing it. Their understanding of the cross and his death was clearly veiled, but the information was clearly not.

  63. Hi Rachel

    Wow! You have really thought about this a lot. I feel bad that my points have held you up in the important series you are doing. I'm sorry I haven't been able to persuade you any better. I would like to think that perhaps you are aware of some matters that could potentially be helpful. You're involved in a vital battle for the truth of the gospel and likely will be challenged in a variety of ways. Possibly, something could yet become useful, even though you don't now concur. I do note that you've said you do agree with some of the things I've pointed out. My desire has been to help with fortifying concepts if I could.

    In this correspondence, including your latest response, there are a lot of details, so many, it doesn't seem manageable, or maybe even wise at this point, to counter anything more. Besides, I'm very much on your side in the crossless debate and mostly in agreement with your presentation. I especially like reading you in Paul's epistles. I only want to encourage you. If my thoughts could be helpful in some way, great. But you are a fine student of God's Word, a lady with a powerful mind and exceedingly capable in saying things. I'm looking forward to all the articles you have planned for the series you are doing.

  64. Rachel,
    Those comments between you and Art were very interesting. On a closely related note, I have a question on the UoG blog at the bottom of my most recent post "How Maby Times Does it Change" (I think - or something like that) that I would love it if one or both of you could answer.

  65. Rachel,

    I trust you are soon to continue with this series. I'd like to interact & see your study on this important topic. God Bless.